Thesis and Capstone Requirements for Nursing Programs

Undergraduate- and graduate-level nursing programs often require students to complete capstones or theses to help them transition from college to professional work. Through this culminating research project, students prove that they are prepared to work in healthcare, that they understand major issues in nursing, and that they have established various technical and critical skills.

Undergraduates typically complete the capstone in their final semester, while graduate students often work on their thesis for most of the duration of their program.

Students usually complete their capstone or thesis at a hospital or other healthcare setting. They often shadow an experienced professional and conduct research on nursing techniques, common practices, and problems they observe. Many programs require a certain number of clinical or practice hours as part of the capstone or thesis. Undergraduates typically complete the capstone in their final semester, while graduate students often work on their thesis for most of the duration of their program.

What's the Difference Between a Capstone and a Thesis in Nursing?

First, undergraduate programs typically require capstones, while master's programs require theses. Second, undergraduates usually write capstone projects over the course of one semester, while graduate students may spend up to three years on a thesis that includes original research and data. Third, both capstones and theses may include a practicum or internship component, but this is more common in capstones. Finally, both projects serve the same purpose: demonstrating student knowledge.

Evidence-Based Practice Nursing

Evidence-based practice is a clinical approach by which nurses and other professionals use the best evidence available when solving problems. Many capstones and theses focus on evidence-based practice. Other projects may address historical or theoretical problems, while this type of capstone or thesis deals specifically with practical or administrative issues.

What Is a Capstone Like in Nursing?

Nursing Capstone Format

Nursing capstones vary from program to program, but they typically consist of one or two courses. During their senior year, students work on their capstone, or an in-depth research project or paper. As part of the capstone, students may also work in a hospital or other healthcare setting under the supervision of an experienced clinical preceptor. While gaining professional experience, students, either individually or in groups, conduct research on a clinical or theoretical problem in nursing. At the end of the capstone, students present their findings for review.

Choosing Your Nursing Capstone Topic

Before choosing a capstone topic, nursing students must make connections in the nursing field. Prior to beginning the capstone, students must find a preceptor, a practicing professional or skilled faculty member, who will serve as their capstone adviser. Preceptors help advisees develop topics and guide them through their research. Nursing capstone papers often require students to investigate current problems in nursing.

Completing Your Nursing Capstone

After establishing a relationship with a preceptor and choosing a topic, students usually have to obtain faculty approval in order to begin research. The faculty must approve of each component of a student's capstone, including topic, format, and setting. Some programs allow students to complete their capstone at their current workplace, while others require nursing students to conduct research in a particular setting.

Once students gain approval, they can begin work on their projects. The crucial first step is designing the capstone. It is important that students create a detailed research plan to ensure they complete their project on time and to the best of their ability. At this point, students should schedule meeting times with their preceptors and draft a detailed outline of their project or paper. Throughout the course of the capstone, students log their hours and report to their advisers with regular progress reports.

Presenting Your Nursing Capstone

One of the main purposes of a nursing capstone project is for students to demonstrate that they can effectively communicate about important issues in nursing. To this end, most nursing capstones also include an oral component. At the end of the semester, students typically present their work to panel for review. This committee usually includes the chair of the department and a few other faculty members, and presentations are sometimes open to the public. During oral presentations, students often refer to a visual aid such as a PowerPoint or a poster.

How Is a Nursing Capstone Graded?

Nursing programs usually provide detailed guidelines for the capstone at the beginning of the capstone course. Before starting their research, students should understand the capstone expectations and the accompanying grading rubric. The capstone panel evaluates each project based on this criteria and then awards a letter or number grade. Students who fail the capstone course and project can often appeal the grade or retake the course the following year.

What Is a Thesis Like in Nursing?

Nursing Thesis Format

A nursing thesis typically takes the form of an extensive research paper comprised of significant quantitative or qualitative research. A thesis typically takes 2-3 years to complete, but this depends on a program's curriculum. Programs usually require students to take a thesis course that keeps them on track and introduces them to research techniques and strategies. Once they have completed their research, students must defend their findings in front of a panel. Students generally complete theses individually, but some programs allow students to work in pairs or in groups.

Choosing Your Nursing Thesis Topic

Choosing a thesis topic begins with finding an adviser. Finding a competent adviser is crucial, and students should network to find someone who specializes in their topic of interest. Faculty members usually serve as advisers, but, depending on the nature of a research project, students may seek guidance from a practicing medical professional. Some programs require students to work under a preceptor, a practicing professional or faculty member who supervises students in healthcare settings. Advisers help students choose nursing dissertation topics, which often deal with current issues in clinical practice or theory. Students can develop completely original research, or they can interpret existing data and literature.

Completing Your Nursing Thesis

After selecting a topic, graduate nursing students must draft a proposal for faculty approval, which should outline the research problem, the sources that will be used, and the topic's significance to nursing scholarship. If the thesis includes human subjects, the proposal should also include a description of the methods used to collect data. After submitting the proposal, students usually meet with a committee of faculty members who decide whether or not to approve the project.

Once the student receives approval, she should begin by designing a research plan. With the help of the faculty adviser, the student can develop her initial proposal into a detailed plan. Staying organized is absolutely essential for such a time-consuming project, and many programs recommend students keep to a strict schedule. Students usually keep detailed notes and log their progress so they can update their advisers frequently.

Presenting Your Nursing Thesis

Upon completing a thesis, students present their work in front of a committee. This panel usually includes the student's adviser and other faculty members who worked closely with the student throughout the thesis process. Students present their research, often with the help of a visual aids such as PowerPoint, and then respond to a series of questions from the panel. Students must adequately defend their findings to receive passing grades. This defense can last 30 minutes to a few hours, and presentations are sometimes open to the public.

How Is a Nursing Thesis Graded?

After the presentation, the committee deliberates privately and decides whether or not the student has passed. Students usually know what criteria the committee uses to evaluate theses, and they typically receive a grading rubric before starting their research. Depending on the school, a student may receive a letter or number grade. Students who fail their thesis defense can generally appeal the decision, and sometimes the committee allows students to revise and resubmit their theses.